Rural Reckoning: Digby Regional High School's Class of 2005
Family pulls people home to rural Nova Scotia, but jobs pull them away
Every August, Digby Scallop Days turns the quiet streets of the southwestern Nova Scotia town into a bustling whirl of visitors and events.
The Scallop Days princesses, dressed in white, pose for pictures. Fire truck sirens sound for parade-goers. Many pairs of feet hit the streets for the fun run.
And, of course, there are scallops.
But this year there was another celebration: the ten year reunion for Digby Regional High School's class of 2005.
About ten of the 58 classmates met at Savary Park for a family picnic to compare notes about where their lives have taken them. Some still live in Digby, or have returned after time away. Most live elsewhere now.
Danielle LeBlanc says maybe a quarter of her classmates are still around. She went away to study in New Brunswick, and now teaches at Digby Elementary School.
"I didn't think that Nova Scotia was part of the plan, but as I got closer to graduation I realized that my family was here and New Brunswick was in a tricky spot when it came to teachers. They had quite a few because of so many programs there with teachers graduating, so I thought maybe I'd have better luck here starting out," said LeBlanc. "So far it's been really good for me."
While LeBlanc is making a go of it, she knows why people leave.
"Lack of opportunity. If you don't have a specific career or profession it's harder to find something in Digby. For me, education, it's a little bit easier. And if, you know, you're part of the fishing industry you're tempted to stay here as well," LeBlanc said.
"But if you don't have anything, or a clear plan, a lot of people ended up moving out west for, for work, which is typical I think of rural areas in the Maritimes."
Here are a few of her classmates who chose to stay, or go.
'The pull to go is very strong'
Lisanne Turner took a B.A. in sociology from Acadia University in Wolfville. She now works for the Tri-County Women's Centre in Yarmouth.
"The pull to go is very strong … and it's very attractive to leave too, you know. Why wouldn't you go and make more money and have better hours? A full-time job as opposed to what I've done many times: a couple of part-time jobs. Three part-time jobs," Turner said.
"I guess I just keep trying to resist and trying to resist, because everyone is going because they have to go."
Turner said populations are getting smaller, which has a ripple effect on schools and jobs and municipal units. That means she could still leave at some point.
"My partner and I have kind of always said we'll go where the work takes us, with exceptions, because we don't want to go too far from our family now that we have a child."
Small population: a double-edged sword
Candina Doucette, reunion organizer extraordinaire, is taking her undergraduate degree at Acadia University in Wolfville and living in Digby. That's a three-hour round trip.
"My husband has work here. We have family here. We have a house and a mortgage here."
Doucette plans to become teacher and stay in Digby because it's easier to get a job there than in the Annapolis Valley, another rural area where she'd like to live.
"I believe it's easier to get a job here in Digby because there's not the population, so by representation there's going be less teachers, less of any profession really. I think that that's why it's easier to find a job."
But smaller population is a double-edged sword that's resulted in changes at her daughter's elementary school.
"When I was in the same elementary school that she's going to right now, there were three classes for every grade level," she says.
"And the level she's at right now, there's a split English and a split immersion. So collectively there might be enough to make one class. So we're definitely feeling it.
"It surprises me that it's that dramatic of a change, but it doesn't surprise me because if you haven't grown up here and you're not from here, there really isn't a whole lot to attract young families to come and stay here."
'Friends and family'
Morgan Oikle works for the Department of Natural Resources as a junior forest analyst. He now lives in Truro but works in Shubenacadie.
Oikle took forestry at the University of New Brunswick and then decided to return to Nova Scotia.
And why does he stay?
"Family and friends," Oickle says. "Probably the same thing as everyone else."
Emma Bell-Carruthers is a GIS technologist/programmer in Miramichi, N.B.
"I find a lot of friends have moved away, gone out west, or to other provinces. A few have stayed here, but definitely more have gone," she said.
Bell-Carruthers went to forestry school and planned to come back to Nova Scotia to work and start a family. "Then I met my husband at forestry school and kind of changed paths."
She went out west for a summer after she graduated, and then moved to Miramichi with her partner. They've been there ever since.
The both work in forestry and have an 18-month-old daughter
"Now having a daughter, I would like to be back here. [There are] just not any opportunities for both of us."
But maybe one day?
"It would be nice, but I definitely don't see it happening," Bell-Carruthers said.
Sarah White works in commercial construction in downtown Calgary.
"It's awesome. It's a pretty sweet job. Something that I never, ever thought I would get into from growing up here," she says.
"I didn't think that it was even really an option, but handed my resume in one day in desperation because I loved it out there. Pretty much the last unemployment cheque I had paid for my work boots."
Sarah White works in construction in Calgary. She says it's great, but she talks about home all the time.
"It took me probably the four years of being in Calgary to warm up to people, get a little group of friends and actually feel at home," White said. "Here, it's not that way."
She would like to come back to Digby some day.
"Hopefully I can set myself up where I'm in a position where I could do that. I think that's my goal, actually."